Awaiting trial, marijuana "minister" remains behind bars after two years

Awaiting trial, marijuana "minister" remains behind bars after two years
Roger Christie
Roger Christie

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Roger Christie, the man who claims he's a pakalolo preacher whose religion is marijuana, tried unsuccessfully for a sixth time Tuesday to be released from custody while he's awaiting a federal trial.

For years, Christie ran the THC Ministry in Hilo, saying he considered marijuana a holy sacrament.

"We use cannabis religiously, and you can, too," Christie said in videos on the Internet.

Two years ago, the federal government charged Christie with leading a major pot growing, processing and distribution operation. He's been held without bail at the federal detention center in Honolulu since.

"Clearly, he is not a danger to the community and should have been granted release," said Thomas Otake, a deputy public defender who's Christie's defense lawy


Addressing the court, Christie said, "I will absolutely uphold, respect and honor any instructions from the court," if he's released on bail.

Christie and his lawyer were unable to convince Federal Judge Leslie Kobayashi that Christie would follow conditions of release either to home on the Big Island or at a halfway house on Oahu.

Otake said Christie promised not to re-open his marijuana ministry if he's out on bail.

"Because two years have gone by and he's been incarcerated for two years now, the government's position that he's going to just simply reopen the ministry tomorrow is just not true," Otake told reporters outside federal court.

He noted that large-scale meth dealers are granted release from federal custody while they await trial.

"There's very little that can trusted about Mr. Christie," said Michael Kawahara, assistant US Attorney who's prosecuting the case.

Otake told the judge his client, "Does not want to do anything to jeopardize his goal in this case and his goal in this case is to win his case and to be the first legal marijuana ministry in the country."

But Kawahara countered, "There is no federal law that would recognize a religious defense for distributing marijuana."

Christie's friend of 20 years, Dr, Daniel Susott, a medical marijuana supporter, was among those in the courtroom to support him.

"To have Roger Christie held for two years without bail for a non-violent crime, it's just another example of how the war on drugs is making the world less secure," Susott said.

But prosecutors and the judge noted four of six delays granted in his trial were at Christie's request. Christie asked for several continuances because he was negotiating a plea bargain and then he asked for other delays after he and his wife -- who's a co-defendant -- got new attorneys.

His trial is set to begin in January 2013.  If he's found guilty, he could face five to 40 years in prison for each of four counts.

Federal prosecutors said Christie's marijuana operation served up to 70 people a day, and asked "followers" for donations to his church in exchange for marijuana . Authorities claim his arrest put a major dent in Hawaii County's pakalolo trade.

Christie and his lawyer now have to decide whether they want to appeal his case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the West Coast, a court that has already rejected his appeal once before.   

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